Baseline to Baseline, when the stars take a seat

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What you missed while walking the picket lines is solidarity of the right to drink on the job

Bulls 109, Cavaliers 108: In the first round, the Bulls can beat the Cavaliers. This game proves it. Providing LeBron James doesn’t play. And Shaquille O’Neal. And Delonte West.

With the game on the line, the Bulls had their go to man in Rose, but it was Joakim Noah who had a key tip in and hit a late 18 footer with his ugly release. Meanwhile Kirk Hinrich had a couple good defensive possessions on Mo Williams, who was playing the role of LeBron James by doing everything.

That meant on the last play, Hinrich was able to keep Williams off the ball, and Anderson Varejao had the ball with and open look, spent three seconds desperately looking to pass, then took the 12 footer and missed. But the offensive rebound came to Cleveland — and again it was Varejao with the open shot. And again he clanked it. That was good defense by the Bulls to get the win.

Bulls and Raptors now tied for eighth. Sunday will be fun.

Nuggets 98, Lakers 96: Let’s be clear — we can read nothing into this game about the playoffs. Kobe Bryant sat out for the Lakers, as did Andrew Bynum. Kenyon Martin did not play for the Nuggets. Denver was on the second night of a back-to-back. This was just a regular-season game.

But a fun one. Entertaining down to the end. Carmelo Anthony was bothered by Ron Artest all night but outscored him 9-0 in the final five minutes. Chauncey Billups was steady and hit big shots key three. The Nuggets made the plays when they had to, including on defense.

Without Kobe the Lakers shot like crap from the perimeter — Derek Fisher 2 of 11, Sasha Vujacic 3 of 12, Shannon Brown 3 of 12, Jordan Farmar the best of the bunch at 3 of 8. For those of you scoring at home, that is 26.2 percent. Then with 14 seconds left and the Lakers down one Brown threw an unnecessary and lazy outlet pass that became a turnover.

Then there was Fisher and Lamar Odom miscommunication on the final play (this was a regular Lakers set but where the screen is set depends on the matchups). Phil Jackson had opted not to call at time out, as is his want, and the result was rather than a play to get the ball inside the Lakers ended up with a broken play where Fisher tried to launch a three over Anthony. The Nuggets made the plays, Anthony got the block. And for now the Nuggets are second in the West.

Kings 116, Clippers 94: Meaningless game, but one team was still doing the little things. The Kings tend to recognize the mismatch and go at it. For a stretch the Clippers tried to put Baron Davis on Andres Nocioni, and the Kings cleared it out so Nocioni could post him up. Two buckets.  The Kings were doing that all night, things like sealing off guys in the post then getting a good entry pass. You, don’t see the Clippers doing that. The Clippers are mailing it in.

Tyreke Evans was Tyreke Evans, which was too much for the Clippers. So was Jason Thompson being Jason Thompson. Great games from the Kings future stars. Sacramento also grabbed 35% of their missed shots for offensive rebounds, that’s just a lot of second chance points.

Jordan Clarkson on Lakers’ win over Knicks: ‘We just kept the foot on their nut and just kept pushing’

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The Lakers outscored the Knicks by one in the first quarter, three in the second quarter, four in the third quarter and 12 in the fourth quarter en route to a 127-107 victory yesterday.

What’s one way to describe that?

Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson in his on-court, post-game interview:

We just kept the foot on their nut and just kept pushing.

That quote is obviously fantastic on its own. Making it better: The NBA published it!

Video of the key moment is above.

Report: Kawhi Leonard disconnected from Spurs

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
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Spurs star Kawhi Leonard missed most of the season with a vexing quad injury, returned, went out with a shoulder injury and is now sidelined indefinitely with the quad injury.

San Antonio (30-18) has played well without Leonard, but apparently this saga has taken a toll behind the scenes.

Adrian Wojnarowski and Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Months of discord centering on elements of treatment, rehabilitation and timetables for return from a right quadriceps injury have had a chilling impact on San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard’s relationship with the franchise and coaching staff, league sources told ESPN.

Under president and coach Gregg Popovich and general manager RC Buford, the Spurs have a two decades-long history of strong relationships with star players, but multiple sources describe Leonard and his camp as “distant” and “disconnected” from the organization.

Beyond the current rehab for the right quadriceps injury that has caused Leonard, an All-NBA forward, to miss most of the regular season, there is work to be done to repair what has been until now a successful partnership.

In an interview with ESPN, Buford rejected the reporting of turbulence between the franchise and Leonard.

This is extremely vague. Leonard has always looked like a dutiful follower in the Spurs’ strong Popovich-led culture. Is this just frustration from injuries? Frustration from injuries causing other minor issues to boil over? Something else major entirely?

The Spurs spent big on long-term contracts for Pau Gasol and Patty Mills last summer, arguably jeopardizing Leonard’s chances of winning another title in San Antonio. Leonard is an elite two-way player in his prime (at least when healthy), and the Spurs were seemingly locking into a team that will likely top out at very good, not great.

So, what’s going on with Leonard now? Aldridge’s situation might be illustrative. Everyone in San Antonio denied a problem, as the Spurs are doing now. But Popovich revealed a couple weeks ago that Aldridge requested a trade. Popovich didn’t panic, though. He met with Aldridge, communicated and found a workable solution. The same can and probably will happen with Leonard.

But that’s no guarantee, and Leonard can opt out next year. Until this is settled, it’s a huge issue with potential to shake up typically stable San Antonio – and maybe beyond.

Wizards’ players-only meeting doesn’t go well

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The concept of a “team meeting” is sort of silly. At what does players discussing the team – something that happens nearly every day – rise to “meeting” status?

But these team meetings happen ever year, usually when a team is struggling. The Cavaliers, Thunder and Lakers have already had confabs labeled a “team meeting” this season. Teams usually emerge saying they’ve found solutions to their problems. Sometimes, it translates onto the court. Usually, there’s not a significant turnaround.

I’ve never seen a public response to the meeting itself like with the Wizards, though.

John Wall, via Cam Ellis of NBC Sports Washington:

“At our team meeting, I think a couple guys took it in a negative way,” Wall said after the team’s win in Detroit. “It hurt our team. Instead of using it in a positive way like we did in the past and using it to build our team up, it kind of set us back a bit.”

Bradley Beal, via Candace Buckner of The Washington Post:

“It was tough. I try to keep all our stuff as personal as possible but I think in a way not everybody got a chance to speak whenever they wanted to,” Bradley Beal said. “They didn’t want to bring up an issue or something they had a problem with on the team. Regardless of what may be going on, as men we’ve got to be able to accept what the next man says, be respectful about it and move on from it. I think it was one of those situations where we didn’t necessarily get everything that we wanted to get accomplished.

“Honestly, it was probably — I won’t say pointless,” Beal continued, “but we didn’t accomplish what we needed to accomplish in that meeting.”

Yeesh.

Nobody seemed to remember exactly when the meeting occurred, which says something. It sounds as if airing grievances actually hurt team chemistry.

The Wizards (26-20) are good, but not as good as hoped/expected. They too often coast against bad teams, and coach Scott Brooks has openly questioned their effort. So, what’s the solution?

Wall, via Buckner:

“Front office got to figure it out.”

If you’re one of Wall’s teammates who clashed at the meeting, and now you’re hearing him bring it up publicly and imply roster moves might be the solution, how would you feel about your future in Washington?

Rajon Rondo invites Ray Allen to 2008 Celtics reunion

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The 2008 Celtics are finally doing something that isn’t petty.

Rajon Rondo was planning a reunion vacation for that championship team while specifically not inviting Ray Allen. Allen ruffled feathers by leaving Boston for the Heat, and many Celtics held a grudge.

But Paul Pierce eventually said it’s time to move on, and now Rondo is also ready.

Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe:

Rondo said Allen has an open invitation to join his former teammates this summer.

“Everybody [on the team] is invited,” he said.

This is how it should be. Allen was a free agent, free to sign with Miami or wherever he wanted. Not that it should matter here, but the Celtics tried to trade him before he left. And Pierce and Kevin Garnett also left Boston, Pierce talking Garnett into waiving his no-trade clause to facilitate a move to the Nets.

It’s not clear how Garnett, another leader in the charge against Allen, feels about welcoming him. But, presumably, he’ll take a cue from Rondo. Garnett probably won’t be the one calling Allen with the trip details, though.

The big question now: Who gives Scot Pollard the itinerary?